NASA is at an advanced stage with the development of its VIPER lunar rover which is scheduled to land on the surface of the Moon in 2023.
The mobile robot will be tasked with prospecting for resources in permanently shadowed areas of the Moon south pole region, and will map the distribution and concentration of water ice.
VIPER's mission will be the first-ever resource mapping mission on another celestial body and its findings will help determine how the Moon’s resources can be harvested for future human space exploration.
It has been designed to withstand surface temperatures varying by 500deg Fahrenheit between sunlight and shade. A battery, heat pipes and radiators will help keep the rover’s parts from freezing or overheating.
Developing capable machinery for space exploration takes intensive R&D and it will take more than a simple resource capacity plan
to get a rover such as VIPER to its destination.
It will be delivered to the Moon as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, initiative. The selected commercial provider will be responsible for integrating VIPER onto their lander, selecting a launch provider, launching from Earth and landing on the Moon.
VIPER stands for Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover and the first water maps of the Moon will mark a critical step forward in NASA’s Artemis programme to establish a sustainable human presence there by 2028. VIPER’s R&D
has allowed engineers to develop a system which will probe deep for ice water. It is thought that water lies deep below the Moon’s surface and the rover will effectively ‘sniff out’ it out.
The lunar rover will possess three spectrometers and a 1m probing drill that will help researchers on Earth to map out a clear landing plan for a manned mission scheduled for 2024.
Daniel Andrews, VIPER project manager, is confident that the new rover is something of a ‘game changer’. He said:
“VIPER will be the first robot to ‘touch’ the water ice that we have detected on previous missions.”